By Jason Wojciechowski on November 19, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Here's the latest word on Dan Haren. The summary: Teams are saying that they don't want to go more than one-year-plus-an-option for the scruffy righty because they're concerned that his back injuries have finished him. Let it never be said that I'm not predictable, because you see exactly where I'm going with this: Should the A's consider involving themselves in the chase for Haren's services?
You know the numbers: Haren's strikeout rate has fallen off every year since 2009 and in 2012 he actually slipped below league-average. His 19 percent mark doesn't look terrible when you look at his career stats (his A's rates were both under 19 percent) but compared to league average, which has been steadily and significantly rising, his slippage looks more alarming. The declining strikeout rate fits with the declining velocity, as his fastball has from 92.5 mph to 89 mph over the last five years. It was a slow, steady decline from 2007 to 2011, but the 2011-12 delta was nearly a mile and a half per hour, plenty to raise alarms for a 31-year-old.
Haren's BABIP and walk rate, on the other hand, did not fall off the map. It should be noted that, particularly compared to his A's days, Haren has become a fly-ball pitcher through and through. Given Anaheim's significant homer-suppressing ways and excellent outfield defense, Haren might well have been pitching and team context best-suited to his abilities.
Oakland, though, provides just as much destruction of power-hitters' dreams and a Cespedes-Crisp-Reddick-Young outfield could well be death-to-flying-things-caliber. (Especially if Bob Melvin can sneak all four of them onto the field at once. I'm pretty sure Joe Maddon has ten defenders sometimes.)
So there's a possibility of a return to form for Haren if he leaves his back troubles behind and regains some of his lost velocity. There's a possibility that he's like Eric Chavez in 2008, when back and shoulder injuries caused him to miss 5/6 of the season. There's a possibility he's exactly the same pitcher he was in 2012. (That's unlikely, though. "Exactly" is a tough standard.)
Given all that, I don't envy front-office people trying to figure out what he's worth. Bill James projects more strikeouts, fewer walks, fewer homers, and a 3.47 ERA, but who's Bill James? Some beardo from a sausage factory?
Oh, he's ... THAT Bill James? Ok, maybe that projection is worth a little deference. Still, projection systems don't know about Haren's back. They just see a year where he pitched fifty fewer innings than usual and performed worse in those innings. They see that he's 32 and has a deep resume of success. (Seven straight years with an fWAR greater than four, for instance, which I'm using because of its reliance on FIP as its basic pitcher-value metric, something that seems most appropriate for this exercise.) If projection systems dream of electric sheep, the particular sheep Bill James's system dreams of in re: Haren is that he had some injury of some sort but has a good chance of being fully recovered for 2013. This is because the history of pitchers shows lots of arm injuries that aren't fatal, knee concerns, knives to the thigh (Old Hoss Radbourn Edition), and so on. If all you know is that a pitcher got a little bit hurt and you were purposely denied any other information, you would not jump to the conclusion that the injury was of the type that can recur and sap strength and generally just be a big asshole of a drain on someone's career. But we know that, so we might mentally adjust the Bill James projection down a bit to account for that.
I would note that the A's starting pitching depth at the moment consists of Travis Blackley, Andrew Werner, and Dan Straily. (I'm not counting on Brad Peacock just yet.) Would it be the worst thing in the world to put a little cash in Haren's pocket and push A.J. Griffin to Sacramento until Brett Anderson gets hurt or Bartolo Colon gets suspended again? Or, perhaps most likely, until Haren himself gets hurt? Griffin had a good year even at the component level in 2012 (95 FIP-, a stat that I don't think I've quoted around here, but: start with Fielding Independent Pitching, which uses only strikeout, walk, and homer rates, park-adjust, and compare to league-average. Lower than 100 is good in the same way that higher than 100 is good for OPS+ or wRC+), but is it such a good year that you let him stand in the way of Dan Haren? When the A's are hoping to contend again against still-good Angels and Rangers teams (and hey, potentially a rising Mariners team, depending on whether they want to make a splash in free agency and grab some hitters)?
Hell, maybe it is. I don't know. I'm a blogger.
Now that I think about it, if the A's want a tall right-hander with injury problems who has pitched in Oakland before with significant success, they should just re-sign Brandon McCarthy. Familiarity hasn't bred contempt yet.